Pamela Zeplin

Are Universities ‘Letting Australian Art Down’?: ‘First Class’ Aspirations or Second Wave Cultural Cringe?


Recent indications suggest that art education in Australian universities may be undergoing a second wave or, it might be suggested, perpetual cultural cringe. Within a higher education environment dictated by stringent ERA metrics, the imperatives of student-centred, demand-driven economics, and savage course rationalisations in university art schools, ‘world class-ness’ assumes a newly heightened significance. Increasingly,’ international’ standards are geographically equated with ‘overseas’ – or anything non-Australian, just as long as ‘outputs’ happen in or emanate from the northern hemisphere. Since ’it is widely recognised that auditing regimes change the activities they seek to measure’ (Cooper & Poletti, 2011), art research conducted, published, and/or exhibited in this country may well diminish in volume as well as status and confidence in the near future. The effects of this culture of audit on Australian art practice and its histories, not to mention local and/or national small scale publishing, do not augur well for the learning choices available to students and wider audiences, many of whom are already adopting ersatz US accents. In exploring some of these recent developments in the shadow of 1970s debates on provincialism, this paper asks a number of questions: Does this phenomenon represent ‘just another colonial system… dominated by Western ethos’ (Babaii, 2010)? How can Australian and wider contemporary art history/theory curricula expand notions of ‘international’ and the contemporary to offer regional and ‘southern’ alternatives to entrenched Euramerican paradigms?

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Pamela Zeplin:

Dr Pamela Zeplin is a writer and artist based in Adelaide, where she is Portfolio Leader of Postgraduate Research Education (Art, Architecture & Design) at the University of South Australia. Pamela regularly publishes on and actively participates in national and international events throughout the Asia-Pacific region including South Project gatherings in Melbourne, Wellington (NZ), Santiago (Chile), Soweto (South Africa) and Yogyakarta (2009). With Indonesian artist, Heri Dono in 2007 she curated a major collaborative exhibition, The Dream Republic at the SASA Gallery in Adelaide .In 2009 she was invited to participate in the major Austronesian exhibition, Art in the Contemporary Pacific 2009: The Great Journey: In Pursuit of the Ancestral Realm at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (Taiwan). With A/Prof. Paul Sharrad in 2009 Pamela convened a funded national workshop, The Big Island: Promoting Contemporary Pacific Art and Craft in Australia at the University of Wollongong, resulting in Art Monthly Australia’s landmark ‘OzPacifica’ edition, specifically devoted to Australian Pacific art in 2010. In 2008 Pamela received a national Distinguished Researcher award from the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools and an Australian Award for University Teaching: Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning.